Pissing behind the cottage, shitting in a bucket. Sheep shit. The trip to the tap. Cheap croissants for breakfast with skin like a chicken’s. Making sure you get up in time to catch the bread van. Daydreaming in the sun. Watching for the yellow post van. The midday meal. A little siesta. A trip to the supermarket combined with a swim. Crackling doses of radio and music. Preparing the evening meal. Reading some French, writing a postcard. Watching the sun come down. A night-time foray to the telephone box. The comfort of sweet foods. Gently giving in to your grown-hard desire. Dozing. Sleeping. – You need a change from this change, a break from the minimal routine which has quickly enwrapped you like ivy. You have a whole country to play with: why cling like a limpet to its northern coast?
You repack your panniers, and head for a long weekend in Rouen. You spend a morning descending and ascending the slopes of the Seine Valley, the roads girdling the spurs of the hills, then dropping into villages, passing on your way a tree which has Euro flags for fruit muralled on the side of a village hall, and Le Pen stickers on signposts. A turreted bungalow outside another village strikes a posing contrast with the shattered wrecks of houses within it. An old man sitting outside the door of a townhouse, the remains of his teeth chewing on a Gaulois. Above him hangs an iron key in green: an old quincaillerie.
It is raining hard by the time you arrive in Rouen. Soaked through, you come at last to the snake down which you have been sliding all morning, the river itself. Rails of old run alongside the industrialised bank. Splitting your concentration between the traffic and the sight of the river, you don’t notice your front wheel slip into the groove of one of the rails; the weight over your back wheel helps to flip you out of the saddle, and you land on your side in the wet like a like a fish spilling from the rest of a catch onto the dockside; fortunately away from the lines of traffic, which remain unmoved by your mishap. Your leg and your pride are bruised, but the fish has somehow contrived to wriggle back into the water, and the accident has warmed and woken up your numb body.
Close by where you will end up finding a hotel room, you approach a character who could almost be you, sheltering under the portico of the Paris-Normandie office opposite the mairie. He is scrutinising a tourist map, and you ask him in French where he got it. He turns out, of course, to be English, at the end of a day trip to Rouen from Paris, so he gives you his map. You wish you could detain him longer than the friendly exchange of basics takes, that he might stick around – you could go drinking together tonight – but, with an inevitability proportionate to your liking for him, he is heading for the station.
The hotel is opposite the Église St. Ouen, the proprietress is welcoming, and to your delight, the room overlooks the basilica, which is crawling with gargoyles and buttresses, peaks and turrets. The tower is crowned by a knobbed spire which you might climb, if mad fancy or drink took hold of you. The skies clear as you lie on your bed looking at the rose window set in the south face of the tower; its sunlit midriff and the tracery of petals are all you can see against the evening blue.